by Anthony DeMarco
| September 18, 2014
Last week the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing entitled "Offline and Off-budget: The Dismal State of Information Technology Planning in the Federal Government". The prepared remarks by those who testified before the committee make good reading. You can find them here. The committee focused on the many IT projects that are overrunning cost and schedule, giving most Federal Agencies failing grades on their budget management report card. My experience while working with Fortune 500 companies is that they do not do much better - we just do not hear about the failures.
I have seen Federal IT planning and management come a long way over the last decade. OMB has taken the lead to bring more visibility and discipline to IT project management across the agencies. Karen Evans testified to the many disciplines in place: Exhibit 300 business cases, Earned Value Management (EVM) requirements, the Management Watch List and the High Risk List among them. These are great tools for visibility and exposing management problems. Using these tools, the GAO exposed the practice of project rebaselining to mitigate the fallout of inaccurate initial estimates. Visibility tools have the effect of "describing the water as someone is drowning" when a life preserver is what the drowning agency really needs. The root cause of this "dismal state" is inaccurate estimates of project scope, cost, schedule, benefits, and risk. The life preserver is to make project managers and oversight managers better estimators. Managers become better estimators through training and the use of models and benchmarks. I have addressed the essential steps of program affordability management and project estimating accuracy in previous papers and presentations (you can download these by clicking on the links).
There is evidence that the testimony of those who came before the committee that they recognize the importance of accurate estimating. Karen Evans said that we must "ensure the use of analytical tools and collaboration environment to improve our own information management capabilities." Paul Denett said that an OFPP training program will certify that program and project managers have cost estimating skills, among other essential competencies. And Norm Brown said that "continuous estimation of cost and schedule" is an essential project management discipline to avoid IT train-wrecks. So while these leaders get it, there is still not enough emphasis on estimating. OMB has taken great visibility actions, but now it is time to address the root cause of the poor report card - estimating accuracy.